The Rest of the Story
The Dream is Born:
About five years later, between two nine-year terms on the school board, I was asked to serve as the school’s representative on a Kiwanis community task force charged with developing a concept for a program to support youth in our community. Four women representing various groups that served youth in our community, joined me on the task force. We met diligently, almost every month for two years.
During that time, we developed a huge concept of a clearing house called “Priority One” that would meet the needs of people and encourage them to connect with the organizations that could best provide services to help them and their children. This cooperative network was to involve all care giving organizations including government agencies, schools, law enforcement, the legal system, churches, ministries, etc.
The ministry overview was immense. So immense in fact that the task force could not find a way to believe it was even remotely possible. I give those women credit for working hard to find a way to the vision but in the end, the new program only concentrated on community organizations joining to provide 40 attributes that kids need to live a successful life. This undertaking was only one small part of the much larger task force vision for Priority One. That organization continues to exist today and has encouraged many cooperative agency contributions to the youth of Spirit Lake.
That larger Priority One vision, created years before Atlas was even dreamt of, contained many similarities to the eventual vision of Atlas. At that time, the larger concept of Priority One died in that task force, but the dream remained alive in my heart.
That vision of Priority One lived on for years in the back of my mind. In 2003 I was moved to ask area pastors to come together in a weekly prayer group. Because of my fear of rejection, it took me more than a year to act on that call but when I did a group of six pastors from five area churches agreed to meet and pray. They were kind enough to invite me to join with them. Through that process, I grew to know the pastors in a unique and personal way. A year later, a second group was formed with six more pastors and churches represented. A relational background was being built for community outreach and cooperative ministry.
I had also spent time with a friend from my church discussing how the church could become involved in genuine help for the less fortunate of our communities. One day he drove up to my door and said he had been at a meeting in Sibley where a man presented a ministry called Atlas. He gave me a video and said it sounded exactly like what we had been talking about.
I watched the video and was amazed at the similarities of Atlas with the vision of Priority One from the past. I watched the video, got on the phone and called the Atlas office in Sioux Center, and the next morning was sitting in Jerry Kieft’s office hearing the Atlas story and sharing mine. That meeting progressed into a few months of work toward starting an Atlas ministry in Spirit Lake.
I did comprehensive planning, identified potential key community supporters, and eventually invited them to a meeting to introduce the Atlas concept. These were fifteen of the most influential community and spiritual leaders but at the end of the day, their support for the idea was lukewarm at best. As Jerry and I talked, we agreed that the time just didn’t seem right, and the Atlas of the Iowa Great Lakes Area joined Priority One on the back burner. My love for the Atlas concept and God closing doors made little sense to me, but I continued in other areas of ministry that were opening and expanding for me.
Atlas Comes Back to Life:
The pastor’s prayer groups continued and two others were added. The first was a group of lay people from a variety of churches and the second was a group of local Christian ministry leaders. The ministry leaders represented six area ministries. Not long after the group started, Scott Finnern from Spencer joined us. He was considering starting an Atlas ministry in Spencer. Once again, Atlas had intersected my life, but more important the concept of community helping others had again been thrust upon me. Scott and I had an immediate bond beyond prayer.
I served as Scott’s unofficial sounding board as he got Atlas off the ground. I encouraged him as his office moved from his red pick up to the current Atlas office location. I supported him in his decision to hire certain staff mentors when most others were warning him to look out for problems. After four years of that deepening relationship, Scott asked me to serve on the Atlas of Spencer Board of Directors. For the first time, I now had an “official role” in this organization that had captivated me for years.
Scott’s resignation and David Lyons’ hire as the Executive Director drew me into a time of transition where the organization moved from Scott fulfilling his personal desire to help people to a ministry seeking to broaden its ministry reach a broader community. In that process I, as the “out of town guy”, became the President of the Atlas of Spencer Board of Directors.
From that point the board took a fresh look at the Atlas mission and vision with the discussion leading to potential goals of expanding and broadening the scope of the ministry to reach more people and to promote the process of helping others across the community. That led to the possibility of opening a satellite office in the Lakes Area. In January of 2019 the Atlas of Spencer board authorized the establishment of the satellite office in the Lakes Area.
The Vision Becomes Reality:
The ministry was organized during a year that was slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic. During that time an office was obtained, renovated, and opened. In February of 2021, Atlas of the Lakes Area received its official 501(c)3 non-profit status and began its official life in the Iowa Great Lakes community. The Atlas office officially opened on February 4, 2021.